As the ominous matchup against Alabama approaches, Ole Miss has replaced the regular practice music playlist with the sound of rabid opposing fans, which blares from the loudspeakers on the practice field.
This is indicative of the overall mood of the program as the dynamic of the preparation for the Tuscaloosa trip changed when starting quarterback Matt Corral left the California loss with bruised ribs last Saturday.
Corral was hurt early in the second half but continued to play before coming out in the fourth quarter. True freshman John Rhys Plumlee came in and revived the Rebel offense in the near-comeback, going 7-7 for 82 yards passing and ripping a 47-yard run that lead to a Jerrion Ealy score.
Plumlee lit an automatic fire in his teammates and a fan base waiting for something to happen on offense, and while there’s never a good time for an injury to your starting quarterback, this week gives Rich Rodriguez an opportunity to experiment with his backups.
While a victory feels unlikely, the meeting with the Crimson Tide is a chance for the Rebels to throw their other inexperienced passers at the wall to see what happens. Luke mentioned on Monday that if Corral were healthy enough to play on Saturday, he’d consider playing both quarterbacks.
“I think John Rhys showed he can go out there and handle himself. He brought a spark into the stadium and on the sideline,” Luke said. “Moving forward, what he can bring with his legs — especially against a really good defense — I think that addition gives (opponents) something else to prepare for.”
Luke told media in his Monday press conference that the coaching staff will monitor Corral throughout practice this week to determine how to handle the quarterback’s workload going forward. Plumlee ran with the first team offense on Tuesday as Corral sat out.
Playing Plumlee and Grant Tisdale against the Alabama defense would give the coaching staff enough film to evaluate all three quarterbacks as the Rebels move into a crucial part of the season.
Plumlee trotting on the field and finishing the game might have come as a surprise for most, as Tisdale appeared to separate himself as the No. 2 quarterback on the roster. Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said there won’t be a wholesale change in their preparation for this week.
“You can see any number of guys. Some guys don’t practice their backup quarterbacks. They don’t get a lot of reps. Ours get a lot of reps,” Rodriguez said. “Our reps are usually pretty evenly distributed between ones and twos. We’ve been trying to get three quarterbacks ready: Matt (Corral) and John Rhys and Grant Tisdale, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Luke said that having an experienced coordinator like Rodriguez prepares the team for changes like this. “He’s had throwing quarterbacks, he’s had running quarterbacks and the offense is very flexible in how we can utilize him.”
The Rebels have the task of finding the best quarterback to lead the team and it looks as if Plumlee will be that guy in Tuscaloosa. Tight end Octavious Cooley is confident the freshman is ready for the job after his lightning round at the end of the California game.
“He’s always been good with energy at practice. He helps the team a lot. I knew he was going to get in and do something good. He’s from Mississippi, so that’s a Mississippi boy,” Cooley said. “I feel like he’s ready. He’s got a lot of energy and I think he’ll step up to the challenge.”